Learning to read and write

Learning to
read and write
Learning to read and write is
an exciting adventure for a young
child. This adventure can begin in
infancy and last a lifetime.
As children learn that books are
for reading — not chewing — and
that pictures and words are different, they begin to lay the foundation for reading and writing.
■ Reading
Stage one
Although parents do not always
enjoy it, touching, tasting, and
even occasional tearing are favorite
activities for infants and toddlers
as they first discover books. It is
never too early to show books or
read to your child. Read to infants
and toddlers and provide opportunities for them to explore written
Snuggling up in a comfortable
lap while listening to a story sets
the stage for a lifelong love of
books and learning. Parents also
might buy toddler “board books”
-- books with pages made of heavy
cardboard. Parents also can allow
children to play with old magazines.
Stage two
an understanding of connected
events. As children discover that
stories have a beginning, middle,
and an end, they learn to memorize and retell stories with amazing
accuracy. During this stage children
become particularly interested
Repetition and anticipation
As children grow older they
begin to copy their parents or older
siblings and “pretend to read.”
They may ask parents to read a
story over, and over, and over!
Although parents may tire of
the same book, children enjoy
the repetition as they anticipate
the chain of events.
Repeatedly hearing the story
also helps children develop
PM 1529e Revised November 2003
in details; if parents skip over a
sentence or paragraph in a book,
children will protest quite loudly.
Stage three
Following along with a finger helps
children learn that words are placed
in sentences from left to right and
in a certain order.
Words as symbols for ideas
Stage five
During the third stage, children
begin to develop a basic understanding that the pictures and
words in their book have different
purposes. Gradually, they understand that written words are symbols for ideas and thoughts.
Focus on meaning
Stage four
Identifying and
matching words
In the fourth stage, children
begin to identify and match words.
Although they may not really
understand the meaning of specific
words or sentences, children often
will run their fingers along the sentence or point to individual
words as the book is read.
In this final stage of development, children begin to focus on
the meaning of words. They may
stop the story repeatedly and ask
“What does this say?” They begin
to recognize simple words from
their favorite books in other reading materials or places. The word
“STOP” on a corner stop sign can
cause great excitement.
Reading, listening, and writing
are important skills that parents
can foster early in a child’s life. The
following are some suggestions for
parents to help their children in the
fascinating world of words.
• Establish a regular time every
day for reading. Reading a
story gives children a sense
of what reading and writing
are all about.
• Get your child a library card and
make regular visits to the library.
Take advantage of story times
and special events sponsored by
your library.
• Read to infants and toddlers.
They learn to associate reading
with the comfort and security
of being held and with the wonderful sound of a parent’s voice.
• Preschoolers enjoy hearing the
same story over and over again.
When reading books that repeat
phrases, such as The House that
Jack Built, give young children
an opportunity to participate by
letting them read the repetitive
parts with you.
• Preschoolers love to “pretend”
to read by telling a favorite
story they have memorized.
Increase your child’s involvement by stopping occasionally
to ask questions or talk about
what is waiting for them at the
turn of a page. Questions help
children develop important
language skills. Try “How many
pigs are there? Let’s count them
together,” “Why is the puppy
dog sad?” “Can you show me
everything in this picture that is
red?” “What do you think will
happen next?”
• Encourage older children to
read aloud to younger siblings,
or to read aloud a dramatic
piece from a play or a poem.
Most children love to put on a
good performance.
• Help your child understand the
structure of a book by making a
“Me” book using a photo album.
Collect pictures of family members, friends, favorite animals,
toys, etc. Albums with sturdy
pages are easy to keep clean and
allow you to change pictures
easily. You also can use snapshots, post cards, magazines,
and catalog pictures.
• Explain the joy and importance
of reading regularly. Before children can become readers, they
must learn why people read and
what people do when they read.
• Invite your children to help you
read a recipe as you cook. Read
cooking instructions out loud.
Point out measurement markings on measuring cups and
• Show your children how you
must read and write when you
pay bills. Let them open your
junk mail and decide what is to
be saved or tossed. Encourage
younger children to use junk
mail in pretend play.
• Encourage older children to
check the weather predictions
and read movie commercials or
comic strips in the newspaper.
You also might want to help
your child start a collection of
newspaper and magazine stories
about sports, nature, science, etc.
• Provide alternative reading materials such as TV schedules, old
catalogs, and magazines. When
traveling, read out loud traffic
signs, road signs, and billboards.
Check with your local librarian
for a list of magazines written
specifically for children.
• Record a favorite book on tape
so that your child can read
along. Older children frequently
enjoy taping books as a gift for a
younger child.
• For more information, ask for
Ages and Stages, PM 1530a-g, at
your county extension office.
■ Writing
When children write, they begin
to focus on the details of written
words. The following are some
ideas to help you encourage your
child’s writing skills.
• Let your children make
grocery lists and greeting
card lists, record
birthdays on the family
calendar, and make
charts for chores.
• Let your child play with an old
typewriter (provide a supply of
typing paper).
• Write notes to your child about
chores and errands and don’t
forget to include a thank you.
Encourage them to write letters
and thank you notes to friends
and family members. Take
dictation for a child who cannot
write and read the letter back
for the child’s approval.
• Let children write with
colored chalk on a sidewalk or
basement floor.
• Give gifts of pens, pencils,
stationery, or a crossword
puzzle book.
• Suggest they write for free
pamphlets and samples. Supply
them with postcards and
• Set up a message center at home
and let children fill out phone
memo pads. Encourage older
children to write down messages
about their whereabouts or
school activities.
• Buy a diary for older children
(promise to respect their
File: Family life 8
Written by Lesia Oesterreich, extension family life specialist. Edited by
Carol Ouverson and Muktha Jost. Illustrations by Lonna Nachtigal. Graphic
design by Valerie Dittmer King.
■ Read more about it!
For more information about
children and families, ask for the
following publications from your
county extension office.
Kindergarten Ahead, PM-1529n
Child’s Play - Art, PM 1770a (cost)
Child’s Play - Fingerplays Plus,
PM 1770b (cost)
Child’s Play - Pretend Play,
PM 1770c (cost)
For additional publications, also
check the ISU Extension Web site
at www.extension.iastate.edu.
Understanding Children: Language
development, PM-1529f
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of Agriculture. Jack M. Payne, director, Cooperative Extension Service, Iowa State University of
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